This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: New World game director Scot Lane opens up about the latest delay and the road to launch, the industry debates the merits of developer diversity and Annapurna delivers a film-inspired game with high-profile acting credits.
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The Big Story
Will Amazon's New World be Big Tech's first gaming hit?
The first success story for Amazon Game Studios may almost be upon us. New World, the ecommerce giant's massively multiplayer online game, is due out next month. But it's been a bumpy road for the Irvine-based development team. The most recent hurdle, after more than a year of remote work, was yet another delay that pushed the release date out by one month.
Game director Scot Lane told Protocol the main culprit was bugs, as well as other unforeseen issues from running the game at unprecedented scale during a beta period last month.
- "We have a little bit more work to do than we thought," Lane told Protocol in an interview over Zoom last week. "The surprise for me was our alpha community didn't find nearly all the exploits the whole world found."
- One bug, which allowed players to duplicate items, was discovered within days, and players worked together online to map out the best and most expedient ways of exploiting it. "Players are really clever at finding exploits. There are really no substitutes for that," Lane said. "It was clever and smart, and it was something we hadn't anticipated."
Amazon has shown a willingness to get New World right. Since the beginning of last year, New World has been delayed four times. That number of launch date misses might typically spell a disaster in the making. Instead, Lane said it's about ensuring the launch meets the team's expectations and those of its most dedicated test players.
- "About four or five days into the beta, we started discussing this among ourselves," Lane said of the delay. He added that the team fully expected to hit its August 31 release date, but that "players found more bugs than expected" and there was simply more work to do.
- "It's important for us to listen to players and important for us to have a good launch," Lane said. "A good launch is everything in MMOs." The game is now scheduled to release on Sept. 28.
Player feedback has been the biggest driver of change for New World, Lane said. The game saw a surge in popularity on Twitch thanks to a promotional event Amazon ran with streamers in the U.S. and U.K. That attracted new players in droves, and with the new interest came more feedback about how New World could be improved.
- "If there's anything we've learned in the last few years, the more we engage players the better it is for everyone," Lane said. "The game is going to get bigger and bigger over time and it's going to be based on what they're asking for."
- "I'm very frustrated about a lot of the problems that New World has, but I actually have a lot of faith in the game," popular Twitch streamer Asmongold told Dexerto earlier this month. "And the simple reason for that is because I complained about half of these things and they made them better. They listened to feedback."
- "Well over 1 million players" pre-ordered the game to play the beta, Amazon tells me, and it racked up 25 million hours played over the course of the two-week period.
New World is arriving at a time of rapid change for the industry. Some game makers, like Epic and Roblox, are chasing the metaverse, collaborating with real-world brands and hosting concerts. Others, like EA, are pouring money into mobile and free-to-play.
- New World is more of a throwback to the heyday of the MMO genre. It does feature some new twists on combat and interesting social features like a competitive faction system that allows players to influence the world's power structure.
- The game will cost $40 at launch, with no subscription fee. "We're a new game and we have to earn trust with players," Lane said. New World, he added, is a "full-fledged MMO for $40 and no subscription … That seems like a good deal provided we can deliver on a full game."
The timing is still promising for New World. Activision Blizzard is seeing an exodus of players from longtime MMO leader World of Warcraft due to its ongoing discrimination crisis. Another major competitor, Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV, is struggling to support an influx of new players. New World now has a chance to arrive on the scene and establish itself as a fresh newcomer to the genre.
After the flop of Crucible, Amazon Game Studios' last big project that was canceled last October, the pressure is on Lane and the New World team to deliver. "At the end of the day, we have to make players love this game," Lane said. "We want New World to be an experience that delights players."
Update August 18, 11:14AM ET: Added new metrics on New World's beta player count from Amazon.
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com.
A MESSAGE FROM TRELLO
After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably?
- "It's a squandered opportunity. When a group of game developers starts something new, it's a chance to break away from decades of homogenous demographics and bring change to the industry." ―Bloomberg's Jason Schreier reflects on the whirlwind of controversy surrounding Raccoon Logic, a new Montreal-based studio composed of 20 white men and one woman. Schreier kickstarted the heated debate last week when commenting on the studio's staff photo.
- "Again, to be clear, I'm not saying EA or Respawn did anything untoward. They were absolutely within their rights to terminate me, much as I may disagree with that decision." ―Daniel Klein, a former lead designer on Apex Legends at Respawn Entertainment, reacts to his termination over sexist comments he made online in 2007. Klein's comments resurfaced as part of the ongoing reckoning in the game industry over toxic workplace cultures and rampant misogyny.
- PUBG's parent company suffers a bumpy IPO. Krafton, the South Korean company behind the battle royale hit, went public last week, but shares fell more than 20% on its debut over concerns China may impose online gaming restrictions, Reuters reported. A majority of Krafton's sales are from the version of PUBG Mobile built by Tencent for the Chinese market.
- Spec Ops: The Line and Nine Inch Nails make an unlikely pair. Cory Davis, known best for his work as creative director on the influential shooter Spec Ops: The Line, has teamed up with Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck to form Eyes Out. The new LA-based studio is building a single-player horror game, Gamesindustry.biz reported.
- Activision Blizzard QA testers share their stories. Amid the ongoing conversation around Activision Blizzard's workplace issues, a pair of reports from Polygon and Kotaku have shined a light on the company's quality assurance division and how its use of contract labor fostered a toxic culture.
- On Protocol: Niantic CEO John Hanke spoke out about what he sees as the perils of the metaverse as envisioned by science fiction and tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, calling it a "dystopian nightmare" the tech, gaming and media industries should work to avoid.
- McCree out at Blizzard. Jesse McCree, for whom the well-known Overwatch sharpshooter is named, has left Blizzard, Kotaku reported. McCree has been featured in numerous reports on the company's workplace culture since California filed its discrimination lawsuit last month. Also gone are Luis Barriga, the Diablo 4 game director, and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft. The company did not disclose why.
- Amazon lifts controversial restrictions on personal game work. A decade-old Amazon Game Studios policy restricting developers' after-hours work is no more, Bloomberg reported. The policy forced employees to use Amazon technology and gave the company perpetual, royalty-free license to any IP.
- EA parts ways with another pair of studio leaders. The leaders of Glu Mobile, which EA acquired earlier this year, have left the company as part of the studio's formal integration with the publisher's mobile division. CEO Nick Earl and COO Eric Ludwig made the decision themselves, VentureBeat reported, in similar fashion to the departure of Codemasters execs Frank Sagnier and Rashid Varachia last month.
- Intel enters the GPU race. Intel's new Arc line of discrete graphics chips aim to compete with AMD and Nvidia, The Verge reported yesterday. Arc GPUs won't arrive until 2022, but Intel is in dire need of new competitive consumer chips after suffering setbacks in the CPU market in recent years.
Look Out For
An artful twist on the cinema-inspired video game
The game industry and Hollywood haven't blended well in the past. While big-budget games have often borrowed the voices, faces and even motion capture performances of well-known actors, only the most cinematic of story-driven AAA titles like Sony's The Last of Us have come close to blurring the line.
But a new project from notable indie film and game producer Annapurna seems like it has the right blend of both art forms to pull off something fresh. The company's gaming arm is putting out Twelve Minutes this Thursday featuring big voice acting credits like James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe. The game, using an unusual top-down camera angle, is an interactive mystery playing out over a repeating time loop. It may not have photo-realistic graphics, but its narrative approach looks like a captivating new take on video game storytelling.
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